Hi there! I hope you are doing super well! I’m writing a novel w/ a character who attended the USNA in the early 80s followed by serving in the Navy & then moving into politics. I have two main questions (although I might follow up with more if you don't mind) 1) If he decided to re-up after his initial 8 year commitment, how long would he most likely be offered? If it matters at all, his 8 would be up in 1995 2) If he graduated w/ a degree in Poli Sci, what sort of position might he end up in?
1. The 8 year commitment is a little bit of a misnomer; USNA grads are only required to spend 5 years on active duty after graduation; the balance of the time is in the reserves. As an officer, you actually serve until you resign or fail to promote to the next rank in the required time period. Enlisted sailors are on a contract where they sign on for an additional 3-4 years or so (depending on their rate and the needs of the Navy), but officers are treated a little differently.
For how long the character stays in, it’ll also depend upon what his job in the Navy is. If he’s a surface warfare officer (SWO), once you complete your initial obligation (generally two sea tours and a shore tour), if you choose to stay in, you go to Department Head School up at the Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) and then onto two department head tours. You do sign a contract for that, because the Navy gives SWOs a bonus to stay in and do two department head tours. Finishing those puts you around the 10 year or so mark, at which point you pretty much have to decide if you’re sticking around or plugging it out to make 20.
Aviators and Submariners have a similar process after the minimum obligation, but the years involved are a little different due to flight school and nuc school, respectively. I believe both have bonuses that require you to stay in for another sea tour or two if you take them, though. For restricted line officers or non-line officers, I admit that I have no idea. Either way, you’re “up or out” around the 10 year mark if you don’t promote to Lieutenant Commander. Promotions before that are automatic at specific times (2 years to make LTJG and 2 more to make LT), but higher tenure for a LT is 10 years.
2. The Navy is a funny place when it comes to your degree and your job. Although he’d have a harder time being a submariner or an aviator with a non-STEM degree (the billets are competitive, and you get extra points for STEM degrees), he could become one if he had really good grades and took enough extra courses to get him through the rigors of nuc school or flight school. That said, with a PS degree, he’s much more likely to become a SWO.
This is where I can really speak with some authority, because I graduated with a history degree, and I was a SWO. For SWOs, your first position will always be on a ship (you might go to a school or two first, but you’re always going to sea, since that’s the crux of the profession). I arrived on my first ship…only to find that I was now an Engineer. Oops.
Long story short, newly minted ensigns get jobs according to the needs of the Navy. My first ship needed a new Repair Division officer, so there I went. I became the Damage Control Assistant (DCA) within a year or so, and then ended up becoming the Auxiliaries Officer when our actual AUXO got hurt. All with my shiny history degree. Learning Engineering was hard for me, but not impossible; in the end, I did pretty well.
Most SWOs leave their first ship after 20-24 months and go onto a second ship, where they’ll have a different job. You pretty much never have the same job twice, so if you were an Engineer the first time around, you end up as a “Topsider” (Operations, Weapons, or Combat Systems–Supply Officers aren’t SWOs; the’re Supply Corps) on your second ship. Then you’ll go to shore duty, which is where your character might decide to get out, or he’d have to stick around for two department head tours. Those will probably be in the same job; the needs of the Navy sometimes win, but you often stay in the same area.
Come to think of it, I do think that USNA grads can go into the Supply Corps; we NROTC types couldn’t when I graduated, but I think the USNA guys and gals can. I’m not so solid on their career progression, though. He could also be a SEAL, but I’d shy away from that in your shoes–if it’s not the point of the story, him being a SEAL is pretty cliched by a thousand other novels.
Military.com has a great page on Naval Officer career progressions if you want more details. The page says ROTC, but it’s the same for both once you graduate. Here’s another link from the same site with some more details, too.
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